Russia to invest $31 million in a local Wikipedia clone

Project to be ready by the spring of 2022. Will be managed by a Russian publishing house, and not user-edited.

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Homepage of BigEnc.ru

The Russian government plans to allocate 2 billion rubles (~$31 million) to bolster an online encyclopedia project managed by a Russian company, which will eventually replace the widely available Russian version of Wikipedia.

Rumors about the Kremlin's plans started circulating in September and were confirmed in early November at a meeting of the Russian Language Council, also attended by President Putin.

"Regarding Wikipedia [...] It's better to replace it with the Great Russian Encyclopaedia in electronic form," said President Putin at the time, as quoted by Russian news agency RIA.

Putin said this new encyclopedia would feature "reliable information, presented in a good, modern way."

Putin was referring to the portal bigenc.ru.

The website is an online encyclopaedia managed by publishing house Great Russian Encyclopedia. The publisher is the author of a 36-volume universal Russian encyclopedia -- eponymously named the Great Russian Encyclopedia -- published and sold between 2004 and 2017.

The 36 volumes were ported to electronic form and hosted on the bigenc.ru portal, where they've been made available to students, professors, and all Russians alike.

BigEnc.ru confirms government's plans

Two weeks after Putin's statement, Sergey Kravets, a spokesperson for the Great Russian Encyclopedia told Euronews Russia that they were set to receive 2 billion rubles (~$31 million) from the Russian government to bolster the bigenc.ru portal with new information.

The update is to take place between 2020 and the spring of 2022, Kravets said.

Russian news agency TASS said Kravets and his publishing house will also translate the Great Russian Encyclopedia into other languages, and that countries, such as Brazil, India, China, and South Africa, were also interested in the project.

Russian authorities have long claimed that information included in the Russian version of Wikipedia is inaccurate and not verified.

In August this year, the country's minister for digital development, telecommunications, and mass media advised students and journalists not to cite data sourced from Wikipedia.

Some prominent Russian bloggers have also made wild accusations, claiming that the Russian version of Wikipedia is "practically owned by Western intelligence agencies."

Russian authorities didn't say if they plan to ban the Russian version of Wikipedia once the BigEnc.ru project completes in 2022.

Russian authorities previously briefly banned Wikipedia in 2013 and 2015 over an entry about a cannabis strain.

If the government ever wanted to ban the site, it would be easier than ever. Last month, a new "internet sovereignty" law entered into effect in Russia, a law that grants the government more powers over the country's internet infrastructure. The law includes provisions that would force all ISPs to redirect traffic through servers and equipment managed by Russian authorities, effectively creating a way for the government to discretely block sites without having to publicize bans or force decisions upon ISPs, a system very similar to China's Great Firewall technology.